‘It was a good week. I was surprised he was so nice.’
Bloomfield Man, 70, Recalls Being Michael Jackson's Chauffeur
WORKING AS A CHAUFFEUR in 1988 for Michael Jackson and his crew, Robert Farmer, 70, of Bloomfield, became a fan. He treasures the black fedora Jackson gave him and several photographs taken with the pop star. (PATRICK RAYCRAFT / HARTFORD COURANT / July 10, 2009)
The 70-year-old Bloomfield resident has his own cherished memories of The Gloved One, including the spring day in 1988 when Jackson gave Farmer the hat off his head, after an MJ concert at the Civic Center.
LaGuardia Airport in New York. Farmer, a retired Hartford firefighter and former chef at Hartford Hospital, served as Jackson's personal chauffeur during his week's stay in the city. "It was quite an experience for me just being with him," Farmer said in his kitchen, as his grandkids listened.
Though Farmer wasn't really a fan of Jackson's at the time, he was thrilled when, as a dispatcher for Cotter Limousine Service in Bloomfield, he received an urgent call. Jackson's road crew needed to be picked up at Bradley Airport.
Farmer took the assignment himself. He established a rapport with the crew, which led to them suggesting he be the exclusive driver for them and Jackson when the entertainer arrived. Bill Bray, a retired Los Angeles police officer who headed Jackson's logistics team, made it official. Farmer would soon be headed upstairs to a suite in the old Hilton Hotel on Asylum Street where the King of Pop awaited.
"What struck me was he was in a good mood," Farmer said. "He was very nice. Just a regular guy. Super nice. I was surprised. I just figured with him being that famous, there was no way he'd be this nice."
Jackson stayed in his suite for most of his stay — and never wanted to be bothered the day of a performance. A valet, who served as chef, was part of the entourage. There was also a woman and her young boy, who stayed in a separate room, but were apparently Jackson's guests. Farmer took the crew out to the mall and a KFC on Albany Avenue in North Hartford. At the KFC, one of the crew members surprised the girls behind the counter by giving them four tickets to the concert. They squealed.
Farmer also took Jackson and a security guy on a brief tour of the city. MJ wore shades and cap.
"He didn't talk much, but he talked," Farmer said. "He called me 'sir.' How're doin', sir? Everything all right, sir?' Very, very friendly."
When he drove Jackson to the Civic Center with his security people, Farmer said he was allowed to stay backstage. Crew members hooked his family up with front row seats and they granted Farmer's request that his niece Tiana Armstrong, now 30, be selected as one of the kids to be called up to dance on stage with Jackson.
Farmer later told one of Jackson's aides how impressed he was that Jackson was so friendly, and mentioned that he was now a fan. The aide asked Farmer to tell that to Jackson directly.
"So, I told him, listen, I never realized you were such a nice guy. I said I wasn't a fan of yours before, but I'm a fan of yours now," Farmer said. "And he was thanking me, laughing, smiling, and said, 'I'm glad you are.'"
Feeling emboldened, Farmer had a favor to ask. "I said 'I'd like to have a souvenir of yours.' And he said, 'OK, what do you want?' I said, 'Can I have that hat of yours?' And he gave it to me."
When he drove Jackson and crew back to LaGuardia, Farmer had yet another request — could he get a picture or two, because no one was going to believe that he chauffeured Michael Jax? Done.
His tip was $1,000. Not bad for a week's work — and the memories and mementos that will last a lifetime.